Thursday, September 30, 2010

Even stink bugs need love

I can’t help but think right now some stink bug dad is telling his stink bug daughter she is beautiful and can grow up to be anything she wants to be.
And it breaks my heart to know the stink bug daughter is wailing in despair, “But, dad, I’m a stink bug and a stink bug is all I’ll ever be!”
It saddens me whenever the world imposes pre-conceived notions on any of God’s creatures simply for the way they were born.
I’m so liberal even stink bug bias offends me.
Man, do stink bugs have it tough.
Talk about having the decks stacked against you. Being called “Stinky” is one of the worst things that can happen to a kid. How would you like it if your entire race was referred to with that loathsome pejorative?
Even third world leaders would be loath to welcome the stink bug president into his or her office for a friendly meet ‘n’ greet.
I can only guess stink bugs were created so even the lowly dung beetle can sometimes feel a necessary surge of self-esteem to help it endure its universally grim 36-month life span spent rolling balls of dung across arid cow pastures
Dung Beetle: “Oh, woe, is me! I spend my entire day balling nutrient-rich dung to feed a family whose breath is so foul we never dare kiss or show affection. Oh, well. Least I ain’t no damn stink bug!”
I think most of the world’s wars were started by people who are determined to compensate for some slight that led to low self-esteem.
I vow that’s not going to happen with my precious loved ones. Not on my watch.
I may be failing at providing much in the way of material goods for my two daughters, ages 10 and 4, but, by God, these girls will know they are loved, they will know they are smart and they will know they are beautiful.
They will know all this because their Daddy made it a point to tell them so each and every day.
My fear is at some point they will one day read this and know their Daddy is an idiot because he spent a lot of time writing about things like the feelings of stink bugs instead of seeking a pay check.
I’ve seen scores of people on the news complaining bitterly about stink bug infestations. Some say that when squashed they emit a skunk-like smell. Others compare the odor to that of rancid old sneakers.
It’s a smell I cannot describe because I’ve never squashed a single stink bug and I never will.
Unlike so many of my discriminating brethren, I’m perfectly at peace with the stink bug.
In fact, I admire that, unlike blood-sucking bedbugs, the stink bug does nothing untoward to humans until we extinguish them. Then, like a foul soul ascending to stink bug heaven, the smell begins to rise.
To avoid that eventuality, experts advise homeowners to seize the stink bug and flush it down the toilet -- a not unreasonable place to dispose of something whose first name is stink.
Me, I cradle them in a tissue, march them to the back porch and give them a little pep talk.
“I have no quarrel with you, stink bug, so I’m setting you free. I wish you health, happiness and a competent press agent who’ll help you overcome the stigma of your off-putting name. Now, go and be free! And if you come back, better not let the missus catch you or else she’ll flush you down the crapper.”
I don’t know whether my little speech is heeded or is met with deaf ears. Heck, I don’t even know if stink bugs have ears. Despite my heartfelt promotions, all I really know about stink bugs is it’s unwise to squash ‘em.
But I believe every stink bug should have the opportunity to overcome hateful perceptions.
I hope one day teams of entomologists will reveal that a rare stink bug has been witnessed transforming itself into the most beautiful butterfly ever seen.
Dedicated entomologists would no doubt be bug-eyed at the sight, but that would, of course, be redundant.
How can dedicated entomologists be anything but bug-eyed?
But I will not rest until we banish all hateful bias from man, animal and insect.
That kind of obnoxious behavior really bugs me.
I think it stinks.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frank Burns eats worms, redux

At Christmas, many newspapers are of the custom to re-publish verbatim the original Francis Pharcellus Church editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” from the New York Sun in 1897.
I intend it to become my custom on this day to re-run verbatim my 2009 post celebrating the birthday of Maj. Frank Burns. He would have been 71 today.
I realize it’s kind of lazy, but I think I exhausted the topic last year and without the benefit of a spiritual seance will have nothing to add.
So here I re-run my salute to Frank Burns.
Later today or tomorrow I’ll come back with something fresh and relevant.
I’m thinking stink bugs!

Take the day off and do something incompetent and mean-spirited: It’s the 70th birthday of Maj. Frank Burns.
Larry Linville, the man who crafted perhaps the most indelible character in American pop culture, was born on this day in 1939. The five-times married Linville, whose only other claim to fame was, coincidentally, a series of ill-fated romances aboard the fictional “Love Boat,” died April 10, 2000, at the age of 60.
But to me at least, ferret-faced Frank Burns will live forever.
It’s a measure of the esteem in which I hold Burns that when Matt Lauer saluted former Today Show colleague Bryant Gumbel on their shared birthday, I thought of calling up and demanding equal time for Burns. 
M*A*S*H remains one of the most endlessly fascinating TV shows in history.No other show has ever ranged the gamut from fall down funny to train wreck terrible. From 1972 through 1983, the show was compelling, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.
Many argue on about when the show leaped the great white maneater.
Was it when Klinger stopped wearing dresses? When B.J. took over for the incomparable Trapper John? When the insufferable Sidney Friedman became a fixture? Or was it when Col. Blake’s plane nose-dived into the South China Sea, a riveting episode that to this day lands like a punch to the solar plexus.
The show took hits with all those dramatic transformations.
But nothing caused the essence of the original hilarious premise to leak out of the storied series like when they lost Frank Burns.
He was the moralizing prig who cheated on his wife. He was the flag-waving patriot who stole purple hearts from wounded soldiers for his own self-glorification. He was a bumbling doctor who kept getting promoted over worthier physicians.
I’ll never forget the episode when Radar was a budding writer doing an assignment about amusing anecdotes. Burns told a story about growing up in Indiana next door  to a little wheel-chair bound boy named Timmy.
With evident glee, Frank tells of how Timmy was happily waving at the Burns family when he lost control of the chair. It plunged down the stairs, across the lawn and crashed the flailing invalid into the Burns family sedan.
He cackles witch-like through out the storytelling as B.J., Hawks and Radar listen in horror. When he concludes, B.J., the designated voice of conscience says, “That must have been awful!”
Frank says: “No, he just scratched the paint a little.”
Then he gets furious when the cheerful buddy-buddy reaction he’d sought results in scorn.
It’s brilliant. It combines a kind of malevolence and mean-spirited pettiness that used to unite the nation.
Today, all our bad guys divide us. You either love Barack Obama or hate him. Same goes for Sarah Palin.
Even deliberately cast evil doers like Montgomery Burns and Tony Soprano have their rooting sections.
That’s why we need more men like Frank Burns in our lives. We need people so bumbling and loathsome that the whole world can point our children to and say, “See that man in the white smock with the stethoscope. He’s pure evil. You don’t want to be grow up to be like him. He’s a mean, cheap and selfish stooge from whom no goodness results.”
So today, in honor of the great Frank Burns, I’m going to try and do something incompetent and mean-spirited.
Looking back over this incoherent blog post, I can surmise the incompetent part’s already taken care of.
Now, the hard part. Can I go against my gentle nature and do something deliberately mean-spirited?
I suppose while I’m thinking about it, I could call up Matt Lauer and demand he salute Frank Burns, too, instead of his suck-up buddy Gumbel, the egotisical poser who’s been on the fast track to Nowheresville since leaving the Today Show and whose head is becoming so big he ought to be called Giant Gumball.
Hmmm . . .
Maybe this mean-spirited bit won’t be so difficult after all.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ugly shoes, cute butts

It was a recklessly worded question, the kind that could have led to embarrassment in the golf club locker room crowded with naked men.
“Hey, do you wear those ugly shoes to make your butt look pretty?”
Someone half listening could have heard the question as: “Hey, those shoes really make your butt look pretty!”
It’s ill-advised for any half-naked man to use the words “butt” and “pretty” in the same sentence while standing in a locker room, but the awkward breach was made. An answer was due.
“Well, that’s not why I wear them, but if that’s the result, well, thanks!”
It’s been many years since anyone’s said I have a pretty butt. Or, more to the point, it’s been many moons.
Not to get all cheeky about it.
Maintaining some level of fitness is important to me, even as my idea of fitness clashes with many sweaty proponents driving that culture.
I won’t do Zumba, run even short distances, lift weights or punish my body with other cruel tortures popular in the gyms and aerobic centers.
I treat my body like it’s my cherished employee and I’m striving for boss of the year stature.
I encourage it to sleep in. I listen to its complaints. I discourage it from stressful activity. I pamper it. I treat it the way my wife, I’m sure, wishes I treated her.
Because it’s been my experience that most of our maladies come in pursuit of fanatical fitness. It’s an ironic truth that many middle-aged people are injured in activities designed to make them more healthy.
That’s not going to happen to me.
So I stroll. I mosey. I tromp. I amble. I hike.
I walk two or three miles most every day. I usually slack off in the rain or snow because my body tells me it would be more comfortable to stay inside and listen to music or read a good book and I don’t want to do anything to upset it.
When I walk, I think. We could all use more of both activities.
Then in April 2008, I read an Adam Sternbergh article in “New Yorker” that had a profound effect on me. I urge you to click on the link if for no other reason than to see the stunning artwork of bare feet painted to look like shoes. Bravo.
It was titled, “You Walk Wrong.” The sub-head read: “It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take.”
It said studies show a natural and healthy walking is impossible for anyone wearing even comfortable shoes. Common shoes, it said, destroy the foot’s ability to distribute the pounding a lifetime of stepping bestows and that’s why so many of us wind up with chronic back and joint pain.
In lieu of going barefoot, it said a host of companies were making shoes that imitate the natural rhythms of a caveman strolling over cobblestones.
I was sold. With the article as my guide, I went out and bought a $225 pair of MBTs, a company that trumpets its stance on its website,
I brought them home all high on hippie chic and showed them to my wife who immediately proclaimed them the ugliest shoes she’d ever seen and set down a list of places I couldn’t wear them in her refined presence.
Taking her cue, the kids made vicious sport of me and my shoes, too. They called them moonboots and aped the Frankenstein walk.
With ungainly soles like rubber watermelon rinds, I admit, no one will ever confuse them with the ruby slippers.
Heck, even the company addresses their hideous appearance in its promotional material.
It says, “The shoe is dead. Long live the muscle-toning, posture-improving, calorie-burning joint protecting, back-relieving bilateral system that you happen to wear on your feet. If they weren’t so radically different, if their only purpose was to look good with your jeans, if they only protected your feet instead of your entire body, we might have been able to find a simpler word for them. Something like shoes.”
As catchy slogans go, it’s not exactly, “Coke, The Real Thing!”
But, honest, they work. Nagging little pains I had vanished. I feel more fit than ever.
Two years later, they’re all the rage with Joe Montana hyping a competitor’s version.
So I feel a little surge of pride when I see someone checking me out on my strolls when I’m out to walking and thinking.
And I always think the same thing.
“I hope I can walk far enough that my butt becomes so pretty no one will notice these ugly ass shoes!”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weeping for Big Box bankruptcies

Life is changing so rapidly I’m starting to feel melancholy about the loss of all I used to loathe.
Take Blockbuster, which is now there for the taking. The company that once ran 6,500 retail stores in 17 countries filed for bankruptcy this week.
And what was once a pivotal part of my life vanishes along with it.
One of life’s great wee pleasures has always been the act of selecting and renting a movie for a night of in-home entertainment. It didn’t matter if it was when I was single, dating, married or with the kids. Pulling open that door with the big blue and gold insignia always felt like prospecting for gold.
There were shelves and shelves of screwball comedies, Hitchcock dramas, John Wayne westerns and all the latest titles I never got around to seeing in the theatre.
Blockbuster felt like home. The staffers were friendly and knowledgable and shared our love of movies.
Of course, it didn’t use to be that way.
I once hated Blockbuster. They were big box bullies responsible for vanquishing the nation’s mom ‘n’ pop video shops.
And I am a mom ‘n’ pop guy, through and through. I love the underdog.
Now the underdog has become the size of Clifford the Big Red Dog. Their tormenters are flea-sized iPods and iPads, the Swiss Army knives of hand-held entertainment for a nation with an insatiable thirst for mindless distraction.
I love Apple products, but wish for one year they’d stop trying to cram 15,000 more 99-cent songs into my shirt pocket and would work on something worthwhile like revolutionizing the internal combustion engine.
I’m one of those guys who finds the experience of buying a movie on Netflix, reading a book on a Kindle or browsing for music on iTunes to be essentially soulless.
Our entire shopping experience increasingly comes through a keyboard and the change is startling.
A recent story said endangered brands include Radio Shack, Borders and, of course, the U.S. Postal Service.
I find myself rooting for these behemoths to suck it and up and pull through. I’m eager to see them innovate and fend off historic business trends stacked against them.
That’s crazy. 
It’s not exactly like I’m propping up Ike Godsey’s old general store on the foot of Walton’s Mountain. These are all major corporations. They routinely price gouge, treat their drone workers like cattle and are run by ruthless executives that make men like C. Montgomery Burns seem, well, cartoonish.
One of the main movers of Blockbuster was once Wayne Huizenga, who made his first fortune running Waste Management. Taking shots at the ethics of people in garbage disposal is too easy -- and potentially fatal.
So I dug a little deeper and found out Huizenga has been cruel to dolphins.
He’s been full or part owner of the Miami Dolphins since 1990. During that tenure, his teams have never made it to the Super Bowl and only once to the AFC Championship game. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he’s been cruel to Dolph-fans.
When he was helming Blockbuster, the company was opening a new store every 17 hours.
The strategy laid waste to independent store operators across the land. They are no more. What these people so unqualified to do anything else did after the loss of their livelihoods I can only guess.
Perhaps they turned to blogging, the last refuge of the under-qualified and marginally motivated.
My problem is I’m a committed bizzospice care volunteer. It’s pronounced biz-ZOS-pice care, like hospice care for failing businesses.
Bizzospice care volunteers like myself are loyal if misguided customers of failing businesses determined to patronize ill-conceived establishments right up until they die a merciful death divined by Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
It’s the way the market should work. Survival of the fittest, a kind of Darwinism that conservatives favor even as they mock the kind of Darwinism Darwin himself espoused.
So as these once thriving institutions one by one fall, I’ll be there to weep at their defeat.
Oh, well, I guess there will always be Halliburton.
Who knows? Maybe it was started by Ike Godsey after the new Wal-Mart drove him off Walton’s Mountain.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One word answers to many vexing questions

Sometimes the weight of pointlessly blogging to an indeterminate number of universally good-hearted and appealing readers becomes too great a burden to bear.
I know, that’s like complaining of back pains from hoisting too many balloons.
Alas, it is true.
Topical, blog-worthy news stories are simply crashing about us every moment of the 24-hour news cycle.
Should I write about politics? Pop culture? Religion? International intrigue?
Geez, that seems like a lot of work. Still, these issues must be addressed and in a timely manner.
So today I’m going to give my most thoughtful opinion on each of the main issues facing the country in a colossal opinion-fest not for the faint of heart.
And because that seems such a daunting feat of scattergun pop punditry, there’s only one way tackle it: with one word answers.
What’s to be thought of a blogger who attempts something so bold?
Death penalty?
Don’t ask/Don’t tell?
President Obama?
Congressional Democrats?
Congressional Republicans?
Sarah Palin?
Christine O’Donnell?
My attempts to appear politically even-handed?
Aging rocker Steven Tyler hosting American Idol?
Jon Stewart?
Stephen Colbert?
Glenn Beck?
Rush Limbaugh?
Best one-word title movie you’ve seen since “Jaws?”
Super Bowl winner?
Stanley Cup winner?
My hometown Pittsburgh sports devotions?
How am I feeling today?
Does God exist?
Does He care?
Favorite Three Dog Night song?
How do you say “one” in Spanish?
What should we do about global warming?
What will you rely on to get through these tough times?
What is all you need?
Once more, with feeling?
What band inspired those last three questions?
What percentage of your readers understands that series of questions is drawn from the song, “All You Need is Love” and that your answers should be joyfully sung?
Stones or Beatles?
Mick or Keith?
Ginger or Maryann?
What are you planning on doing after finishing this little exercise?
How many of your readers do you think have stuck around this far?
Is this even working?
What are you listening to while you’re typing this?
Care to be more specific?
Which one?
What’s your favorite song from that album?
Chances we’ll see Mideast peace in your life time?
Worth pursuing?
What would you do if Iran develops a nuclear reactor?
Will it come to that?
What should white people do about news that, unless trends reverse, they’re likely to be minorities in one generation?
What if that fails to prevent eventual minority status?
Should they build that pseudo-mosque two blocks from Ground Zero?
Even if makes Tea Party leaders come unhinged?
How can you support such an inflammatory position?
Do you care that Lindsay Lohan seems bent on self-annihilation?
If you were her judge, what sentence would you impose?
What’s your opinion on legalizing marijuana?
What do you advise for people for whom partisan politics is an all-consuming pursuit?
What do you call GOP men like Ken Mehlmen? He was the Bush 2004 campaign manager who used gay-bashing as a wedge issue, then in August announced -- ta! da! -- he is gay.
What are you looking forward to most as the weather turns colder?
Does your new “stats” feature continue to show that, second to the USA, the majority of your readers come from Denmark?
How do you feel about that?
You’ve now answered more than 50 questions about various issues, from the serious to the silly. Could you go on?
Will you go on?
What are your thoughts about this format? How would you characterize it -- and please be concise?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Moo! When wine trumps milk

I don’t know how the conversation about milk got started, but it sounded like it was being conducted in a cafeteria full of fourth graders.
“I hate milk!”
“Eww! My mommy made me drink it all the time. Never again!”
But these weren’t 9 year olds. We were old men in an old man’s bar.
Rather than little toddler cartons of milk, we were imbibing Scotch, bourbon, gin, rum and beer! Beer! Beer!
We weren’t drinking these spirits to strengthen our bones. We were drinking spirits to lift our own.
“Beer is living proof that God loves man!” is what sudsy sage Benjamin Franklin said.
You can agree with that philosophical nugget, and still be surprised, as I was, to hear my fellow inebriates expressing such visceral disdain for milk.
They talked about it the way they talk about the Taliban.
They want to see it banished from the face of the earth.
To me it was like hating Girl Scouts.
Milk, the ivory issue of the breast -- and I know these guys love breasts. We watch cooking shows most every afternoon and, guaranteed, it isn’t so we can learn how to expertly poach zucchini. Believe me, values voters wouldn’t want to want to know what’s going on in the minds of some of these guys when Giada de Laurentis starts pounding her chicken.
And please don’t mistake that example for deviant behavior. Culinary chicken pounding happens all the time in even Presbyterian kitchens.
Me, I’m perfectly at peace with milk. I feel about it the way I do the vast rainbow of my fellow man. This puts me at odds with the Montana GOP which this weekend declaring its intent to make all homosexual behavior criminal.
I don’t understand how some men and women are gay and others are not. But I know they face many situational obstacles that can, for some, lead to prolonged bouts of sadness over their lifestyles.
In that regard, they are not unlike Chicago Cub fans.
I adore bourbon, tequila, vodka, oaky cabernets and buttery chardonnays -- you name it.
Many years ago I had an unfortunate encounter with Southern Comfort and we’ve never made peace. But I don’t hate it. I simply try and avoid it because I know it’s likely to make me vomit.
Again the Cub fan analogy applies.
But there are many times when a big frosty glass of milk really hits the spot. I often have it over Lucky Charms and with other breakfast staples.
This might strike some as odd, but I love milk with pasta. I’ve had many spaghetti meals that involved beer, milk and water.
I admit it must have been awkward when the three of them got together in my stomach. It would be like a Jew, a Muslim and that Koran-burning Florida whack job getting stuck in the same elevator.
There are many studies that say milk is essential for strong bone growth.
Not surprisingly, these studies are funded and promoted by -- ta! da! -- our nation’s dairy interests!
I do know one person who is going to expire from a milk deficiency.
That would be my wife.
She’s admirably conscientious about her health and that of those around her.
But our oldest daughter absolutely detests milk and it drives Val crazy. I fear our efforts to infuse her with the daily recommended amount of calcium will backfire and that one day she’ll be like the guy three stools down.
“Yeah,” he said, “my mom used to make me drink it every day. I couldn’t stand it. Just hated it. I haven’t had a single glass of milk in 27 years since I left home. Won’t even have it my house.”
In maybe only this one regard, this flabby soon-to-be candidate for a liver transplant, is exactly like one of the most fanatically fit men in history.
He’s Jack LaLanne.
I interviewed him for a Men’s Health story about six years ago.
He turns 96 next week. Expect him to do something remarkable.
When he turned 70 in 1984, he fought strong winds and currents to swim 1.5 miles across Long Beach Bay. He did it while handcuffed and shackled.
It gets better.
He did it while towing 70 boats with 70 people on board.
Talking with him was one of the most amazing and euphoric conversations I’ve ever had. The man’s a marvel.
It was so amazing I said to him, ‘Hey, my wife’s right here. Will you mind telling her something inspirational?”
No problem.
They talked for 10 minutes. Then Val set the phone down, drove straight to Pittsburgh, dove into the Allegheny River and towed with her teeth a coal barge 15 miles upriver to New Kensington.
God bless him, the man’s that positive and uplifting.
In fact, I can only recall one negative comment.
And it was about milk.
“French people live the longest and they have wine with lunch and dinner every day. Americans drink milk instead. Milk is for a suckling calf. How many creatures still use milk after they’re weaned? Just one. Man. I’d rather see people drink a glass of wine then a glass of milk any time of the day.”
So if the world’s most fit man hates milk, there’s only one thing to do.
Wine for breakfast!
Any fitness advice that involves increasing our convivial alcohol consumption is something that simply must be milked.